Why Journalists Have A Duty to Disrupt
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump fields a question from Univision and Fusion anchor
I felt a sense of déjà-vu this week after TV anchor Jorge Ramos was denounced by the corporate media for disrupting a news conference by presidential wannabe Donald Trump. The Washington Post’s accusation that Ramos had blurred the distinction between journalism and activism is identical to the one I have faced for similar behavior.
In February 2011, I stood up at a press conference given by Avigdor Lieberman, then Israel’s foreign minister, and told him he was under citizen’s arrest for the crime of apartheid.
As my protest took place inside one of the EU’s buildings, fellow reporters started asking if my press accreditation card, which gave me access to those buildings, would be confiscated. The International Press Association, a body which supposedly represents journalists who cover EU affairs, promptly signaled that it should be.
Lorenzo Consoli, a board member of that association (known by its French acronym API), argued that my stunt was “not the sort of thing a journalist does.” To emphasize that I was becoming a serial offender, he added: “And it’s the second time.”
Consoli was alluding to how I had also put Tony Blair under citizen’s arrest one year earlier.
My attempt to hold the former British prime minister accountable for the illegal invasion of Iraq sparked a lot of media interest. Some reporters were supportive; others seemed more preoccupied by the question of whether or not it was appropriate for a journalist to also be a campaigner.
Consoli made his comments without talking to me first. To be fair, he later phoned me with something of a retraction. Acknowledging that I was indeed a serious journalist, Consoli promised to defend me in a meeting with Brussels officials. Because of his U-turn, I was allowed to keep my access card for the EU’s institutions.
But then I “sinned” once more. When Avigdor Lieberman was in town during 2012, I again interrupted his press conference, again announcing that he was under citizen’s arrest.
Although a security guard grabbed me by the neck after he thwarted my protest, Consoli and his chums didn’t seem bothered by that use of excessive force. Rather, they decided that this time my press card would definitely have to be confiscated.
In my dealings with API, I made an old-fashioned case. Journalists, I contended, should speak truth to power. Having witnessed first-hand the oppression of Palestinians, it would be cowardly of me to sit quietly at a news conference given by an Israeli foreign minister and not do anything.
API appears to regard my views as outdated. Whereas journalists used to be told we should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, API thinks we should comfort the comfortable.
In the fall of 2011, the BBC current affairs program Newsnight broadcast a discussion on the cuts to public expenditure being undertaken in Greece and some other countries, ostensibly in the name of saving the euro. During the debate, the newspaper columnist Peter Oborne referred to an EU spokesperson as “that idiot in Brussels.”
Oborne is a conservative, who has been more critical of Israel and of the financial sector than many liberal pundits. His use of the word “idiot” was a fairly mild outburst, considering the inhuman nature of the policies which the EU spokesperson was defending.
API, however, issued a statement denouncing the BBC presenter for allowing such a “subjective insult” to be broadcast. The statement revealed how a press association was more concerned about an EU representative on a large salary than the pain being inflicted on ordinary people.
API runs a press club along with a Belgian regional authority. The club’s facilities have been used for events organized by a lobby group called the Europe-Israel Press Association.
In May 2014, I contacted API after learning that the lobby group had arranged for the Israeli military to brief journalists via the press club. I specifically asked if the association would ensure that the club was not used in future for pro-Israel activities.
Ann Cahill, API’s then president, promised to get back to me with a reply to my query. I’m still waiting for that reply.
In September last year, the Europe-Israel Press Association hosted a lecture by the Israeli academic Mordechai Kedar at the aforementioned club. Kedar has advocated that the Israeli military should threaten to rape Palestinian women.
This is how things work in the world of modern journalism.
Associations representing the profession have no difficulty accommodating apologists for war crimes. Yet it’s not deemed acceptable for journalists to protest at war crimes.
Has journalism turned into stenography? Should Jorge Ramos simply report Donald Trump’s plans to expel 11 million people from the United States, without challenging the inherent cruelty and — let us be frank — racism?
News conferences and press releases are inventions of the public relations industry. Often, powerful figures use them to try and manipulate the media, to influence what information does and does not enter the public domain.
If Donald Trump or anyone else is using PR to present repression as reasonable, then journalists should refuse to cooperate. It is our duty to disrupt.